Garage Door Safety

Believe it or not, your garages overhead door is the largest moving object of your home and can be the most dangerous. So let’s discuss some important safety issues related to overhead doors, and overhead door openers. Garage overhead doors are large spring-supported doors. Due to the strain that garage doors and openers experience, their parts may become defective over time and need replacement.

  • Garage doors are normally the heaviest moving objects of the home and are held under high tension.
  • Injuries caused by overhead doors account for approximately 20,000 emergency room visits annually according to the US CPSC (Consumer Products Safety Commission).

The following are some of the current requirements for overhead door safety.

  • The overhead door must have an emergency release handle. This handle must be colored red and be easily distinguishable from the rest of the door system. This handle must also not be located greater than 6 feet above the floor.
  • The door panels must be free from fatigue, cracking or dents. Also checking each panel for separation is also recommended.

Warning Labels must be located at the following locations:

  • The spring assembly is required to be attached to the spring.
  • A general warning label must be attached to the back of the door assembly.
  • The wall control button must also have a warning label.
  • And a tension warning label should be located to the doors bottom bracket.

Testing the door

The doors operation can be tested by raising the door manually. The door should move freely and should open and close without difficulty. The door should not be tested until the track connections and overall door condition has been inspected. Older doors are known to utilize extension springs. These can be especially dangerous should spring breakage occur. Spring containment cables should be installed to prevent a broken spring from sailing across the garage should the spring snap.

The wall mount switch should be located as far above the floor as practical, generally 5 feet above the walking surface so that children do not gain access. The wall switch must also be in full view of the door that it operates. This is sometimes found on homes that have an uniquely shaped garage.

Another test that should be conducted is to pull the safety release handle and manually open the door half way. if the door falls to the ground, the tension on either the torsion bar or extension springs is too weak and must be adjusted. If you were operating the door and the power went out the release handle must be operated and this could be a safety issue if the springs cannot hold the door.

Automatic reversing system

As of 1991 overhead doors are required to be equipped with a reversing system when the door comes into contact with an object. It is important that the door reverses direction and opens completely rather than stopping in place. Many openers have adjustments to limit the down pressure required to activate the reversing mechanism. With this type of reversing mechanism, applying some upward pressure when the door is traveling should activate this feature. Some manufacturers state to place a 2×4 block flat under the door to perform this test. If the reversing mechanism is faulty while performing this test damage to the lower section of the door can happen, however.

Starting in 1992 a supplemental reversing mechanism was included with all new doors. Photoelectric eyes are now required at the base of the track within 6 inches of the garage floor. These eyes create a beam across the base of the door, when the beam is broken by an object or a person, the door reverses.

My advice to clients

  • Homeowners should not make repairs to springs. The springs are held under extremely high tension and are dangerous. Leave it to a qualified door technician to make the proper adjustments.
  • No one should walk beneath the overhead door when it is moving. A good rule of thumb is to never use your overhead door as a way to travel outdoors when walking. Always use the service door. As a matter of fact many manufacturing plants use this as a strict safety rule. I know of one company that makes walking through an overhead door a a cause for termination. A bit drastic maybe, but that particular company takes safety very very seriously.
  • Fingers and hands should be kept free from any moving parts including the springs, pulleys, hinges, and door panels. Closing doors can pinch and crush fingers and other body parts that may get between them.
  • The automatic reversing mechanisms may need adjustment during periods of cold weather. The flexibility of the springs can be affected by cold temperatures. This adjustment can be made by a button or dial on the garage door opener.

In summary, Overhead doors and operators can be a hazard if certain components are missing, broken, or otherwise defective. An annual inspection of these parts is recommended as a part of you home maintenance program. It is good for you to know the hazards so when something looks a little off you don’t operate your door but call in a trained technician.

As always, I hope you have taken some value from this post. If you have any home related questions please send them my way at the email below.



Aaron M. Zuehlke is the owner and inspector at Zuehlke Inspection Service, LLC, a full-service home inspection company serving Southern Wisconsin. Specializing in Home inspection, Radon Testing, Mold Testing/inspection, Residential Thermal Imaging, and Manufactured Home Foundation Certifications. He also manages several rental properties through Zuehlke Properties, LLC. He can be reached by email at or by calling the office at 608-931-7485.

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